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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Story of the Alphabet                 81

church addicts, we may also do so in religious ritual All of us do
so when we speak of a beloved husband or a learned wife. In Chaucer's
Enghsh the plural -s was preceded by a vowel, and the combination -es
was audibly distinct as a separate syllable When fusion of the final -s of
the plural, and ~ed of the past with the preceding consonant of the noun
or verb-stem took place, necessary changes occurred We pronounce
cats as kats and cads as kadz. We pronounce sobbed as sobd, and helped
as helpt. Thus the grammatical rules of Enghsh would be a little more
complicated, if we spelt all words as we pronounce them. We should
have a large new class of plurals in ~#, and many more past forms of the
verb ending, like slept, in -t

The reason why these changes had to occur is that certain combina-
tions of consonants are difficult to make, when we speak without effort
When we do speak without effort, we invariably replace them by
others according to simple rules Such rules can shed some light on the
stage of evolution a language had reached when master printers, heads
of publishing houses, or scholars settled its spelling conventions One
simple rule of this kind is that many consonants which combine easily
with s or t do not combine easily with z or d, and vice versa We can
arrange them as follows 

f k th(^ chW $hW

"(3)    "votced"

This rule is easy to test Compare, for instance, the way you pronounce
writhed (6d) and thnved (vd), with the way you pronounce (without
effort) pithed (0t) and laughed (ft) In the same way, compare the pro-
nunciation of the final consonants in crabs and traps., crabbed and
trapped^ or notice the difference between the final -5 in lives and wife's
Vowels illustrate sources of irregularity in the spelling conventions
of European languages more forcibly than do the consonants, because
Italic-Latin which bequeathed its alphabet to the West of Europe had
a very narrow range of vowel sounds, for which five symbols suffice,
This is one reason why Italian spelling is so much more regular than
that of other European languages, except the newest Norwegian re-
formed rettsknvmng. Another reason is that Italian pronunciation and
grammar have changed little since Dante's time. In Enghsh dialects we
have generally about twelve simple and about ten compound vowels
(diphthongs) for which the five Roman vowel signs are supplemented by